Students become a ’part of your heart’

Staff Writer
The Destin Log
Donna Barton teaches math and science to third graders at Destin Elementary School. She was recently selected by the faculty as Teacher of the Year. [TINA HARBUCK/THE LOG]

Not only is Donna Barton loved by her students, but she is loved and respected by her fellow teachers at Destin Elementary School — enough so, that they selected her as Teacher of the Year.

Teacher of the Year is nominated and voted on by the faculty at the school, according to assistant principal Jon Williams.

“I was totally blown away,” Barton said. “I never dreamed that would happen. It was very humbling.”

Barton said Principal Joe Jannazo made the announcement of the accolade at a recent faculty meeting.

“Not very often am I at a loss for words but I couldn’t ... no words were coming out. I was shocked,” she said.

“Ms. Barton is a tremendous educator that works very hard to build relationships with her students to get the most out of them,” Jannazo said in an e-mail to The Log. “She consistently makes a positive impact in her students’ lives through her caring approach and her love for teaching.”

Now in her 33rd year as a teacher at Destin Elementary, Barton has mostly taught fourth grade and fifth grade. However, when the fifth graders were moved to Destin Middle School a few years ago, she didn’t want to leave Destin Elementary, so she moved down to third grade.

“It’s my new life,” she said. “It’s my new home and I love it.

“I like my third graders ... they still kind of like you (at this age),” she said. “They’re fun. They can talk to you like little adults.”

Barton teaches the 8- and 9-year-old's math and science. She team teaches with another person on faculty who teaches them reading. So she has her students half of a day, and then they swap out.

Team teaching with Barton for four years was Emma King.

“Donna Barton is the best,” King said. “She is a timeless Southern lady who teaches her heart out every single day. She truly loves her students unconditionally and they feel that love their entire lives, coming back to visit her year after year.

“She has a way of making each and every student feel like they are not only special, but her favorite,” she added. “As her partner teacher, I witnessed daily her determination, organization, and eagerness to change with the times - all in an effort to better her students’ learning. There is no one more deserving of this award.”

Originally from Fayette, Alabama, Barton graduated from Auburn University in Montgomery and made the move to Destin with her husband Jim, now deceased, 36 years ago.

“I’ve seen a lot of change in education,” Barton said.

She said when she first started out it was more of a “whole group” setting, whereas now teaching is more of a focus on a small group.

“It’s more kid-centered for their individual needs, which it wasn’t many years ago,” Barton said. “I like it. I think if you can work one-on-one with a child then it’s going to help them better understand.

“Some kids can learn in a whole group setting, but some need just that little bit of extra (attention),” she said.

Barton has a lot of stations set up in the classroom, from working with computers, to sitting around the table for that one-on-one teaching experience.

“They are really good with computers,” she said, noting they are probably more computer literate than she.

Although she has seen a lot of change in the classroom, one thing that hasn’t changed is her love for the children.

“I’ve got families where I’ve taught all the kids in the family,” Barton said. “That’s special ... I don’t think you have that in large cities. In Destin we get to teach families and they become your friends.

“A lot of the kids I have taught, I am friends for life with their family,” she added. “They just become a part of my heart ... that will never go away.”

Barton plans to retire in 2 1/2 years.

“It’s kind of sad to think about it, because this has been my world for so long. I don’t know what I’ll do not being in the classroom. I guess I’ll come up and volunteer,” she said.